One of the most spellbindingly beautiful movies I have ever watched has to be Contact. While it can be slow at times (not to mention having an utter lack of action sequences) it paints such a picture of assembled hopes, fears and the essence of what it is to be human, that it just cannot be missed. Joshua and I have come to the consensus that the movie, for once, is better than the sometimes muddled novel which the said movie is adapted from.
In case you are unacquainted with the plot, here follows a rough semblance of it.
Elanor "Ellie" Arroway, noted astronomer and SETI member, is currently in the process of demolishing her career and scientific reputation by choosing a rather laughable career track: to scan the skies for alien broadcasts. She's just about sunk when out of the blue the only thing that can save her does; she locates a strong pulse signal, regular and ordered, originating from Vega, a star 26 light-years away.
Seem's that Hitler's broadcast announcing the opening of the 1936 Berlin Olympics's reached them, and they've wasted little time replying. Within their broadcast are plans to build an enigmatic machine. Notwithstanding fears of this machine's safety the world decides to spend half a trillion dollars to build it. In the construction process it is found that the machine is some sort of transport. It's built, and Arroway's superior, David Drumlin, is picked to go, much to her chagrin. Unfortunately the machine is blown up by Christian terrorists; Arroway puts away her hopes of becoming the progenitor of a new age; when it's revealed that some eccentric billionaire has funded the construction of another Machine in Hokkaido island. And Arroway is picked to go this time.
The rest, as they say is history.
It's difficult to describe the movie without one first watching it. Contact is such a vision of hope and universal beauty, it defies the normal bounds of Hollywood. Here, for once, is a movie bent on an idealistic portrayal of our search for meaning across the stars; and it bandies several major issues that have been debated for ages. Are we alone? Is there a God? Is science fundamentally beneficial? Is spiritualism? It just gives you the feeling of a hope that such an event will happen someday, that one day the truth of our place in the Universe is revealed, that we will be exposed to wonders that transcend human experience.
Although the plot can be a little roundabout at times, Contact is a seamless union of disparate elements; romance, science-fiction, philosophical discourse, and it works so well together the elements just flow into each other. The directing and the atmospherics are brilliant. Contact's atmospherics and ambience is top-notch, and for that alone it belongs in the stratospheric levels of movie quality. Acting and dialogue is good enough. Jodie Foster is brilliant in her portrayal of a conflicted scientist, the portion depicting Contact with the species that sent the signal is one of the most brilliantly made sequences I have ever seen; spectacular scenery, breathtaking music, emotional punch, and a surreal sense of being removed from the mundane, as well as a brilliantly scripted scene with good acting and dialogue. One could almost wish that crystal moment would continue forever, and when it finally slips away, the release of dramatic potential is palpable and very painful.
From that point on the film lapses into a painfully sad anticlimax; one that is inevitable, but just so painful. It only heightens the sense beauty and the surreality of the previous scenes.
Contact remains a powerful vision of humanity's future in the stars, and it's message makes the Universe such a more wonderful place than it would have been otherwise; notwithstanding God, the reason for our existence in the Universe is a facet of a layered reality indescribable with words; but as Ellie's father says,
"In all our ceaseless searching, the only thing we've found that makes this Universe bearable, is each other."